A mentor and writing coach connected via Cloud Conferencing with a disabled student for a case study to complete a course writing assignment. Technical challenges, physical disabilities, and geographic distances impacted the process. Google Docs, an app in the Cloud, ultimately helped to reduce transactional distance and support positive collaboration, resulting in stronger writing skills and Cloud savvy.
The overall collaboration process focused on using Google to help the student self-edit. After seeking guidance and approval on content from mentor and coach through email and voice chat, the student used voice-to-text software to submit his drafts for review. The writing coach and mentor used Google Docs to highlight and comment on the student’s work, emphasizing his strengths. Their role was not to edit the document, but to encourage autonomy by highlighting problems like spelling or grammatical errors for him to fix on his own and notify the writing coach when complete. A conference call was then set up, involving two of the parties connecting via Google voice chat and the third participating using a speaker phone (cell or land line). This combination evolved after numerous technical glitches arose attempting a three-way Google voice chat. All team members could view the document online, make changes, and discuss them. Each participant had their own cursor to locate and edit discussed text, literally placing them on the same page making changes in full view of each other’s input. The process is comparable to having three people in the conferring in the same room, but with the ability to make changes in a single document that are automatically saved every few seconds.
As a result of the Google-based collaboration, the student completed a rationale essay and degree plan ready for submission to the Office of Academic Review (OCAR). All degree plans and essays are reviewed by a faculty committee and given a complete technical review by OCAR staff in order to be approved. The student’s plan was ultimately approved.
The team learned to navigate technical hurdles and utilize many collaborative technologies offered in the Cloud. The skills that were introduced and in some cases mastered will be used by team members in future educational transactions. Ultimately, this case study is a story of how a disabled student struggled to find the best way to communicate at a distance with his mentor and writing coach. The emerging Cloud technology provided a vehicle for the student to gain writing skills, confidence and develop a strong relationship with his mentors.
All team members have been using the technology to collaborate with others personally and professionally since the initial collaboration, and the mentor and writing coach have started to collect data related to the impact of Google-based collaborations on the writing process. Possibilities for future studies include analysis of student-writing coach interactions as well as writing collaborations between colleagues in the Cloud.
Access: Google services are offered free to anyone with a Google/Gmail account. They are easily accessed online in a format familiar to most Web users.
Faculty Satisfaction: The two faculty involved in the collaboration were pleased with the ability to connect with a student, decrease transactional distance, and improve writing skills in a free and familiar setting. They have been using the technology to collaborate in other ways (personally and professionally) since being introduced to Google Docs at the start of this case.
Learning Effectiveness: The student successfully completed the course writing assignment with guidance completely online. The mentor/coach guidance facilitated the student’s autonomy in his global choices of courses as well as the focus of his writing. The collaboration resulted in an essay that was ready for submission to the school’s Office of Academic Review and ultimately approved.
Scale: Free service with a Google/Gmail account.
Student Satisfaction: The student in our case introduced the technology, having benefitted from the capabilities offered there in the past. He was pleased to both inspire our use and have the assistance it offered to create his writing assignment independently while receiving clear guidance when needed. He continues to use the technology to work with other course instructors, his writing coach, friends, and family.
● Email: originally institutional accounts were used, but eventually Gmail addresses were exchanged for the purposes of using Google technologies.
● ANGEL online learning platform: the institutional platform housed course information for Ian’s degree planning class and provided its own course mail communication option.
● Online degree planning resources: several institutional websites offer additional degree planning links and descriptions of the process.
● Cell phone: all team members exchanged and used cell phones to communicate at some point during the process.
● Land line phone: the mentor and writing coach each utilized a land line speaker phone at some point during the process to hear and contribute to the conversation on Google voice.
● Google voice: provided the means for two team members to verbally communicate without using a phone.
● Google chat: provided back-up verbal communication between one phone and one computer when Google voice seemed to have technical problems.
● Google Docs: provided advanced word processing capabilities, housed the main document, tracked edits and comments, and allowed all team members to view each other’s contributions.
Technology is free to access with a Google/Gmail account.
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Revised version of earlier submission